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Fitz in Miami, and Friday before the Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2016 – 3:01 pm

It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.

You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.

He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.

“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Indeed it was.

Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.

“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”

What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.

— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”

“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”

Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,

— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.

— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.

“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”

Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.

— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”

— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.

“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”

— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.

“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”

— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.

— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.

FITZGERALD HOWARD


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Ryan Lindley as “NFL’s Greatest Stand-In”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 8, 2016 – 3:26 pm

NFL Films does some great work. I came across this short piece today that was posted, a six-minute video about former Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley as the “NFL’s Greatest Stand-In.” Obviously, Lindley’s turn(s) in Arizona didn’t go great. He’ll probably be most remembered for his hard, hard day against the Jets in 2012 or his struggles in the playoff game during the 2014 season. One of the things I always loved about Lindley, though, was that he never shied away from understanding and acknowledging his shortcomings. He did what he could when he was given the opportunity — which is outlined in this video.

I just remember a good guy, a guy who along with Logan Thomas helped Larry Fitzgerald shoot a commercial. A guy who knew he was probably in a losing battle when the team used a draft pick on a quarterback. A guy who did what he could when Thomas couldn’t do it and Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton got hurt. A guy who, when he threw a TD pass for the Colts, was still getting big support from his former Cardinals teammates.

“My man, Lindley” indeed.


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The fast feet of David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2016 – 12:50 pm

There are a lot of things to admire about David Johnson’s game. Watching him in the offseason and training camp, it was his hands. The one time heading down the sideline in OTAs, catching the ball on a wheel route above the defender’s head, was memorable even if it was just the summer without pads. The time in camp when he went deep down the field against a linebacker (I don’t recall who) and kept his hands to his side until the last possible moment before — boom! — shooting them up to make the catch, the defender not even realizing the ball was coming because Johnson never gave a sense it was coming.

But then there is a play like the one against Washington, where he is running up the middle and suddenly, it becomes a slalom race for the few yards, except Johnson is moving through live defenders instead of flags. How a guy around 225 pounds is moving like that and moving forward, picking up a chunk of yards, is amazing. His balance is unreal, and his quickness at that size.

I’ve never really watched any video of Johnson in college. Maybe he’s gotten a ton better since April of 2015. But watching him on a daily basis, for him to go in the third round remains a great draft mystery.

UPDATE: Carson Palmer weighed in on the play. “Watched it in slo-mo, four or five times. I was trying to measure how many yards he was covering between bounces. He covered at least three or four yards, and I remember thinking, ‘Man, I’d pop both my Achilles and fracture something in my knee.’ (I thought) how impressive that is and how natural it is for him to do. He does it every game. The play he had in Carolina when he hurdled a guy and then make Luke Kuechly miss when he had him dead to rights. … He makes those plays look easy, and he makes them routine.”

2gdyi8o


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Punter Wile added to practice squad

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2016 – 2:02 pm

The Cardinals brought in punter Matt Wile for a tryout Monday, and Tuesday, signed him to their practice squad. Drew Butler remains the punter on the active roster.

To make room for Wile on the practice squad, the Cardinals released linebacker Reshard Cliett.

Wile punted well against the Cards two weeks ago when he served as an injury fill-in for the Falcons. In that game, Wile’s two punts traveled 59 and 57 yards, and his net average was 52 yards. Wile’s arrival will essentially create an in-season competition at the position. Butler has struggled since returning to the Cardinals following a severe ankle injury and subsequent release. In his two stints with the Cards this season – six games thus far – Butler has averaged 41.3 yards with a net average of 35.4.

“Like any other position there are expectations, and that spot right now, we’re not living up to expectations,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s a results-based business and if you’re not getting the job done, we’ll look and see if there is somebody who can.”

Coach Bruce Arians had pointed out Monday any new punter would also need to be able to hold on point-afters and field goals. Some practice time will give Wile a chance to show that as well. As Kent Somers astutely pointed out, as bad as a shanked punt might be, a blown hold on a key field goal would be worse.

Matt Wile


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Cardinals will bring in punter for tryout

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2016 – 1:46 pm

On the heels of General Manager Steve Keim saying the Cardinals would evaluate the punter position after a rough outing from Drew Butler Sunday, coach Bruce Arians said the team will bring in a punter for a tryout. He did not name who.

“You can’t have guys kicking 28-yard kicks when you sit out there at practice, 50 (yards), 50 every day and then you get in a game (and struggle),” Arians said. “Drew brings a lot of other things but he’s still got to kick the damn ball.”

Butler had three punts Sunday. The first was 41 yards but was a line drive and returnable. The second was a good kick of 50 yards, but the third went the aforementioned 28 yards and allowed Washington to start a drive on the Cardinals’ 48-yard line.

“Kicking is a funny game,” Arians said. “And most of it is mental.”

Butler has struggled much of the season. He dealt with a bad ankle injury earlier in the year, was released, and then brought back. In six games, he has averaged 41.3 yards a punt, with a net average of 35.4. Arians emphasized a tryout did not necessarily mean a change. Holding on Chandler Catanzaro is part of the job description.

“He can be a hell of a punter, if he doesn’t hold, he ain’t getting the job,” Arians said.

Drew Butler


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Keim: Palmer praise and Butler answer

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2016 – 8:19 am

Not surprisingly, Steve Keim was much happier today. The Cardinals won and played pretty well. One player the Cardinals General Manager mentioned during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 a couple of times was Carson Palmer. Keim said the quarterback was exceptional. Palmer completed 30 of 46 passes for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Some of the throws he made were fantastic,” Keim said. “His arm, to me, looked yesterday as live as it’s looked in a long time.”

Keim was asked if that meant Palmer’s arm had been a concern.

“I wouldn’t say it’s as much of a concern, but some of the balls he threw, the velocity and the placement he had on them, and some of the things he did in the pocket where he escaped pressure, was excellent.”

— The question everyone always wants answers for was asked to Keim — what are his feelings on the play of punter Drew Butler Sunday. Butler only had to punt three times and did have a 50-yarder, but averaged less than 40 yards a punt and less than 35 net. His final boot of 28 yards let the Redskins start an eventual field goal drive on the Cardinals’ side of the field.

“Not satisfied at all,” Keim said. “Like any other position there are expectations, and that spot right now, we’re not living up to expectations. It’s a results-based business and if you’re not getting the job done, we’ll look and see if there is somebody who can. That’s the tough part of it. You’re in some critical situations. It’s not like we have a backup punter that you can put in if someone is having a rough day. We’ll certainly talk about that today and see where it goes moving forward.”

— Yes, he was happy with running back David Johnson (more on DJ later today.) “Every time he does things, it’s amazing to me,” Keim said, adding “the sky is the limit for that young man.”

— Like Palmer, left tackle D.J. Humphries was mentioned a couple of times as someone who had an “excellent” game. Keim also thought right tackle Ulrick John flashed at times. He has strength deficiencies, Keim said, but “what he does athletically, he jumped out with some of the things he did.”

— On Bruce Arians’ play-calling late: “Give a lot of credit to our head coach. One thing about him, he’s willing to take risks. He showed confidence in our team and they rewarded him.”

— Keim also said he liked the fact the players held a meeting among themselves last week. “Because it shows me they care. We’re all disappointed with the way the season has gone so far. Expectations were high. That’s the way they should be, that’s the way we want them here. So, to show it means something to these players, the fact we haven’t played well as a team for the most part this season, and to come out, when you face adversity, to fight and to not give up, the way we played (Sunday) … our playmakers stepped up and made plays.”


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Nelson, Johnson and Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2016 – 8:41 pm

It’s possible J.J. Nelson wouldn’t have even been on the field with 2:03 left Sunday, but as fate — and perhaps some virus, or bad food, would have it — Michael Floyd “was throwing up at that time,” Nelson said. So the Cardinals went with a play that could get Nelson open deep. Carson Palmer took a shot, and Nelson held on — something he hasn’t been able to do a lot of late.

“Them dropped passes I’ve had, I was like, ‘I’ve got to catch this,’ ” the wide receiver said.

He did, of course, and then the defense finished it off, and voila! The Cardinals had their win. There was so much talk about accountability and team meetings coming into this game, and maybe there was more attention to detail, but mostly, as Tony Jefferson said, it was Five Stars (as in five-star players) being Five Stars. Guys made plays. Nelson. Palmer. Patrick Peterson — who said he really didn’t think the players-only meeting impacted much tonight — with the pick. Heavy pressure on Kirk Cousins. Guys were making plays. David Johnson, at the forefront (more on him in a minute.)

They’ll see if they can keep it going in Miami.

— We knew it was coming, but props to Larry Fitzgerald for becoming No. 3 in the NFL all-time in receptions. The only two ahead of him? Jerry Rice and long-time tight end Tony Gonzalez.

— Going 10-of-16 on third downs and not turning the ball over usually is a recipe for a win.

— Calais Campbell played an excellent game. It was highlighted by his strip-sack when he collapsed the pocket, but he played so well all around.

— Lost on the last TD drive was a third-down holding call on Josh Norman on Fitz. From my vantage point on the sideline, it looked like he held. Norman said he felt he was within five yards of the line of scrimmage and thought he was in good position, but he also said he wasn’t going to blame the loss on a call.

— Why, exactly, the Redskins called a fade route to DeSean Jackson, with Peterson covering him, on the 1-yard line on third down I will never understand.

— Hey, remember when I was saying the Cardinals didn’t yet have a Victory Monday? They’ve got one now.

“There is nothing better than coming into this locker room and Coach giving us a Victory Monday in December,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s is the first Victory Monday. That is pretty bad, man.”

— Finally, there is David Johnson. What else can you say? Fitz is calling him the NFL’s MVP, Palmer is calling him the best player in the game. He’s got 15 touchdowns now, two shy of the franchise record set by John David Crow in 1962 (That’s the last time someone had at least 15.) He’s had more than 100 yards from scrimmage every game this season.

He’s got 1,005 yards rushing this season. He’s up to 704 yards receiving on 64 catches, and it does not seem far-fetched any longer to see him get another 296 yards receiving in the last four games. That’s an average of 74 a game. Definitely do-able, and it would bring him with Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only ones to do it in NFL history.

When you have Johnson, why wouldn’t you try fourth-and-1 (although Arians was right; big props to the left side of the line and those two tight ends because we have seen Johnson stuffed before.)

On a night when Fitzgerald made more NFL history, it sure feels like Johnson is rapidly becoming a player that — with health and good teammates — could end up having a chance to be a historical player himself.

afterskinsblog


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Mathieu inactive against Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2016 – 12:57 pm

In what is no surprise, safety Tyrann Mathieu is inactive today because of his bad shoulder. Mathieu missed practice on both Thursday and Friday. The Cardinals do have safety Tyvon Branch back from injured reserve to help make up for the absence. The rest of the inactive list is fairly status quo as of late:

The full inactive list:

— WR Marquis Bundy

— S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder)

— LB Sio Moore

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Ed Stinson


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Roof expected to be open Sunday

Posted by Darren Urban on December 3, 2016 – 3:36 pm

For the first time this season, the University of Phoenix roof is expected to be open for a game when the Cardinals host Washington Sunday. The temperature is supposed to be about 65 degrees outside at kickoff.

The roof has been open 24 times previous since the stadium has opened; the Cardinals have won 14 of those games. It has been open five times previous since Bruce Arians became coach. A list of those outcomes:

— 12/10/15 Minnesota W 23-20
— 11/22/15 Cincinnati W 34-31
— 12/29/13 San Francisco L 23-20
— 12/8/13 St. Louis W 30-10
— 10/17/13 Seattle L 34-22

roofopenblog


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Work ethic and Friday before Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2016 – 4:41 pm

It’s been a week of criticism and accountability, of players meeting and talk of needing just one win. And as Bruce Arians talked for the final time before the last-gasp-for-now Washington game Sunday about such things, he veered to a message that wasn’t really asked about but something he clearly wanted to say.

“I love this team’s work ethic,” the coach said. “I never have to bitch about work ethic. They come to work Wednesday through Saturday. It’s a shame it hasn’t all shown up on Sundays, but I couldn’t ask any more on the field and in the classroom than what they are giving.”

Ultimately, the talk during the week is just talk. Something else that keeps popping up when Arians – and players – speak about everything that’s happened this week: No one knows what it all means until Sunday.

It doesn’t mean all is right with the win, or that it was a disaster of a week with a loss. But the on-life-support playoff hopes need a win to make sure they don’t head to the morgue, and it doesn’t get much more desperate than that. The Cards are working for that. Arians is sure of it. But that’s not really been a complaint all season. Just the results.

— There’s been speculation that the pounding Carson Palmer has taken this season could influence him to retire after the year. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since he’s talked often about playing as long as he possibly could, and just said last week how much he still enjoys the prep during the week and game days.

But I asked him if indeed, the added hits could play a role in him deciding to retire.

“I don’t know,” Palmer said. “I’ll have to let you know, if I get there. If I get there.”

— I’m glad Fitz acknowledged he always knows where he is when it comes to stats because if he had said he didn’t, those who have been around him would’ve known otherwise. Look, Fitz desperately wants to get a Super Bowl title – the one thing he doesn’t have. But yes, the numbers have always been very important to him. He’s not catching Jerry Rice. He might not even catch Tony Gonzalez. But he’s had an amazing career.

(Yes, you can only imagine what it could have been with a good QB situation from 2010-2012, or a more steady situation in 2014, but we play the Cards we are dealt. He did have a huge 2011 season, though, when John Skelton just started throwing it to him down the field over and over.)

— How much does Josh Norman cover Fitz Sunday? And exactly what will be Patrick Peterson’s duties when he is on the field?

— Arians was asked about the lack of production from the draft class. The coach said they were all picks made for the future, with a deep and veteran roster. He noted that only injuries forced Brandon Williams into the lineup early this season.

“(The class) was more guys we felt we could develop and not need right away,” Arians said. “Hopefully that’s every draft from here on in.”

— Don’t forget there is a toy drive at Sunday’s game. Bring an unwrapped toy or donations to any stadium entrance.

— In case there was uncertainty about bringing Tyvon Branch back from IR, the uncertainty of Tyrann Mathieu as we go along probably should clear that up. Plus – and importantly – Branch plays special teams.

— David Johnson needs one touchdown to reach 14 this season. No Cardinal has done that since Roy Green did it in 1983.

— Washington is feeling good about itself. Their offense, even if Jordan Reed isn’t going to play, has moved the ball. This is not a simple game. Seeing how the Cardinals react to the events of their week – and the spot they are in at 4-6-1 – is intriguing. We haven’t been here in the Arians era. Everything is new.

beforeredskins


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